25 September 2007

Forest Hill Society Response to Rail Utilisation Strategy

Letter to Network Rail in response to the RUS consultation document:

The Forest Hill Society wish to provide some feedback on a number of aspects on the South London RUS. Overall we are disappointed that while the RUS recognises the existing overcrowding and suppressed demand on our line, it fails to deliver any significant improvements for passengers on the Forest Hill / Sydenham line. In many ways we will have a worse service as a result of the RUS than we do at present and we urge you to reconsider a number of key areas for the passengers from Forest Hill.

From the end of last year the Forest Hill Society, in conjunction with the Sydenham Society, has collected almost 1,000 signatures which can be viewed at http://fhpetition.notlong.com/. These are from local residents opposed to a reduction in services to London Bridge. The RUS provides no immediate solutions to the reduction in services that we take effect with the introduction of the East London Line.

Executive Summary of our recommendations:
  • No cuts to the existing peak services to London Bridge on the Sydenham line
  • Earliest possible introduction of 10-car or 12-car trains on the Sydenham line
  • No cuts to services on the Sydenham line to Charing Cross
  • We are pleased that the RUS recommends the continuation of direct services from Forest Hill to Victoria. We would like these to be extended to the morning peak [ed. - it is still not entirely clear that this service will continue but there is some evidence in the RUS document that it will still be run]
Option 2.3 – Increased am peak frequency on the Sydenham Line

We are disappointed that the recommendation to have an extra 2 tph refers to the East London Line rather than the London Bridge service. At present there are 8 tph on the services into London Bridge but this will be reduced to 6 tph in the current plans. Replacing these with trains on the East London Line will not make up for the loss of services to London Bridge as the trains will be shorter (4 carriages rather than 8 or 10 carriages) and the destination is wrong for the majority of commuters, who will continue to travel towards the centre of London via London Bridge and the Northern and Jubilee Lines.

The RUS (page 112) makes quite clear that the London Bridge service would be a preferable option to the East London Line option and would reduce crowding on the train services as well as at Canada Water station, which is barely able to cope with the expected increase in passengers changing platform via a single escalator.

Network Rail must look again at the capacity made available for services from Forest Hill to London Bridge and make sure that our existing capacity is not diminished. We do not request more trains than we currently have (although demand would support this), just the same level of service as is currently available on the line. The only issue here is capacity at London Bridge which appears to be being taken away from the people of Forest Hill and other stations in Lewisham.

Option 4.3 – 10-car or 12-car peak services on the Sydenham Line

We welcome the recommendation to run 10-car trains on the Forest Hill / Sydenham line. This will reduce some of the impacts of the proposed reduction in train numbers (option 2.3), but does not address the existing overcrowding and suppressed demand on this route into London Bridge. We would like to understand more about why 12-car trains would be impractical on this route as the phrase 'This is likely to lead to the conclusion that 12-car operation is impractical on this route due to constraints elsewhere limiting the suburban network to 10-car' (page 130, emphasis added). We do not believe that limitations on other parts of the network should hinder the necessary provision of services on a route with such high levels of suppressed demand.

It is disappointing to see that this increase in the lengths of trains shall not be delivered until the completion of the Thameslink Programme. We believe this is an excuse for inactivity and lack of development on our line which is not justified by any Cost Benefit Analysis. Many platforms at London Bridge low-level station are already capable of having 10-car or even 12-car trains, so it should be possible for at least some of the services on our line to be increased to 12-car trains, even if not all of them before the completion of the Thameslink Programme.

The biggest concern for us is that with the proposed reduction in services to London Bridge following the introduction of the East London Line services (and even before that with the closure of the ELL from this December), we will see an increase in overcrowding on the remaining services to London Bridge. The immediate effect of the East London Line for passengers from Forest Hill will be a reduction in services and increased overcrowding. The RUS does nothing to solve this problem until many years after the introduction of the East London Line Extension.

We recommend that work begins immediately to extend all the platforms on the Forest Hill / Sydenham line to allow for 12-car trains and that plans are built into the timetable from 2011 to allow for 10-car and at least some 12-car trains on this route. In terms of passenger demand and economics this plan is more effective than the short-term strategy of inaction outlined in the RUS.

Option 20.4 – Operation of trains from Sydenham line through to Charing Cross

The evening services from Charing Cross to Forest Hill are extremely beneficial for passengers coming home from the West End of London and are 'extremely well utilised' (page 176). Because these existing services operate outside peak times there should not be any issues with capacity beyond London Bridge. We recognise that it is not possible to run these services during peak hours, but consideration must be given to the continuation of these services into the evening off-peak hours.

Again we are not demanding any increase over our existing services (although demand would justify such an increase), but wish to see our existing services remaining during the evenings. There is no justification for the removal of this extremely well utilised service.

Existing Loop Line to Victoria

From the route map on page 203 of the RUS it appears that plans are in place to continue to run trains between London Bridge and Victoria via Forest Hill. This is already a useful service at off-peak times and enables services to run into London Bridge without using capacity south of Norwood Junction. We would like confirmation that the plan is to maintain this service in the short to medium term.

Ideally these services would run into Victoria or Clapham Junction in the morning peak to cater for the large number of commuters in the area heading for west and south west London.

Additional Options that have not been considered in the RUS:

Stopping some Thameslink trains at New Cross Gate

We propose that at least 2 tph on the Thameslink service stop at New Cross Gate after the introduction of the East London Line.

Passengers from the East London Line would then be able to change to these services to London Bridge, Kings Cross, Bedford , Gatwick and Brighton. This would reduce overcrowding on the remaining services from New Cross Gate to London Bridge by adding additional capacity, provide faster travel from Gatwick to Canary Wharf and City Airport, reduce passenger overcrowding at London Bridge station with customers changing platforms (this is recognised as a problem area in the RUS), and it would reduce overcrowding on the Northern Line for a significant number of passengers from South London wishing to continue beyond Kings Cross.

Additionally, there is a need for peak services on the Thameslink route through London Bridge. At present there are no Thameslink services before 9:30am , which adds to the inconvenience of travelling to Luton Airport, Kings Cross (for Eurostar), and other key destinations on this line. We recommend that consideration is given to running at least 2 tph on the Thameslink service via London Bridge.

We would also like to take this opportunity to make clear our opposition to the removal of terminating platforms at London Bridge which Forest Hill services currently use. It is clear from the current Thameslink plans that there will be a reduction from 9 terminating platforms to just 6, this is not enough platforms for all the South London services that make use of London Bridge. South Londoners seem to have been given little thought when developing plans for the Thameslink service.

ELL trains on the Loop Line to Victoria

There are many commuters from Forest Hill and Sydenham wishing to travel via Clapham Junction and Victoria in the morning peak. With the extension of the East London Line there will be greater interchange potential at Crystal Palace to other services to these destinations. However, we would like consideration to be given to the continuation of some of these East London Line or London Bridge service to Clapham Junction or Victoria. This would provide a useful loop for passengers from South East London travelling to South West and West London , reducing congestion at London Bridge and on Jubilee Line services from London Bridge to Westminster.

We understand that there are capacity issues at peak times around Victoria as well as London Bridge , so termination at Clapham Junction, or joining the 4-car ELL trains with other short services to Victoria may be viable options.

It is disappointing that no consideration was given to better use of this service as part of the RUS.

I hope that you will incorporate our feedback and suggestions in the future development of train services in South London.

No comments: